Our beloved Nikita enjoyed five years of freedom in this home. She was nine years old when we moved her here. Dogs from the local farms came to check her out and establish some semblance of dominion amongst themselves. Off came the leash so that she, too, could roam and identify her boundaries— which she did quickly.
Chow-chows were bred to guard the temples in China. She felt this duty in her bones. If an errant bunny or deer traipsed across her yard she would chase them off, always stopping at the property line. How did she know this? We didn’t show her the perimeter. But if we sat outdoors— at a picnic table or on a blanket with our not-yet-crawling grandson nearby— Nikita sat point. Facing the road or the woods, not us. She was on guard.
When she died, we brought her ashes home to bury them under a new tree. But she is not the only canine interred here. The woman who sold us the house told me, “If you ever excavate near that shed, you might find the remains of a few of my dogs.” Okay, then. I won’t disturb them.
At the end of the road some neighbors cleared a hillside for another corral for their horses. They found an old neighborhood cemetery. I started thinking about this… how many people have lived and died on this land in the foothills of the Catskill Mountains? Where are their remains? Not all of them were buried and marked with a gravestone. There must be bones and dust all over the place.
The indigenous people who lived here long before Europeans arrived and conquered had their ways of sending the dearly departed off into the ether. I’ve never come across such a burial grounds, but I know those long-gone bodies must pepper the earth here. When my husband’s mother died, we brought her ashes north. She is interred with no visible marker, no indication that a woman from Brooklyn who lived in Panama and California and Texas now sinks into the soil of Ulster County. We planted a tree above her, too. Is this legal? Who will ever know? I’m not telling.